The UK’s largest cities and towns are where we come together to work, live and play. The pandemic has reminded us that, with the benefits that come from city life, there also come risks. But the lessons from the 6,000-year history of the city are clear: they survive, adapting to and overcoming the challenges of disease, conflict and economic change.
Our research has shown the extent to which the pandemic has impacted people’s day-to-day lives, demonstrating that those living in cities and large towns have been hit the hardest by Covid-19.
Centre for Cities’ most recent three-part event series looks at the future of cities from three perspectives; working from home, city living and city leisure time, exploring how the pandemic has prompted changes in these areas and debating what this will mean for the economy and society going forward.
The rise in home working due to Covid-19 may have weakened the link between a person and their place of work, but our sense is that the notion of the city as a place to live has both survived and flourished during the pandemic.
With footfall slowly increasing but still at pre-Covid levels in many cities and large towns, discussions are now focused on the consequences of the pandemic for local high streets, how retail has adapted and the role of culture in encouraging people back to city and town centres.
As the long-term impact of Covid-19 becomes clearer and the nature of work changes to adapt to it cities must change too. This will have implications for the economy, working and social life, infrastructure, planning and design.
Panel speakers at our recent event in partnership with L&G made the following key observations when exploring the potential long-term impact of working from home:
The proportion of people able to work from home is often overstated. Our estimates suggest that people able to work from home are a minority in every single city and large town in the UK. London, Reading and Edinburgh have the highest shares of workers able to work from home – more than four in ten. Meanwhile, in Barnsley, Burnley and Stoke just two in ten people can work from home.
However, it is likely that the pre-lockdown working practices will change, with many people continuing to work from home for at least some of the week. However, this will not be a cost-free decision; many city centre shops and restaurants depend on custom from office workers and are likely to struggle if their weekday sales shrink.
While many have adapted smoothly to working from home, the benefits of face-to-face interaction are hard to replicate and working remotely means that we miss out on the spontaneous flow of ideas and the sense of camaraderie that being in an office creates. We will continue to need spaces to come together, collaborate and build relationships. Offices and co-working spaces are natural places to do this and city centres remain the most convenient places to locate them.
The beginning of the pandemic back in March 2020 and subsequent introduction of national lockdowns saw a dramatic fall in mobility and public transport use in UK cities as millions of office workers quickly shifted to working from home.
Since then, many city centres have struggled; high street footfall plummeted and sales in the retail and hospitality industries fell, which put millions of local service jobs at risk.
That said, and while it is too early to predict the long-term effect that the pandemic will have on urban places, we consider the recession brought on by Covid-19 to be very different to previous ones and so we should expect the UK economy and many of its cities to experience a sharp bounce back.
Now, with the economy gradually starting to reopen and restrictions lifted it’s likely that we’ll see changes in UK cities over the coming months.
Covid-19 has undoubtedly shaken urban places to their core, but we should be cautious about rushing to the conclusion that the pandemic signals the death of the city.
Cities have always been centres of disease as well as prosperity. Density has its downsides as well as upsides and yet historically cities have survived and thrived, continuing to function as places where people gather to do trade, to learn and to have fun.
While every part of the UK has been affected by Covid-19, UK cities and large towns have been hit the hardest, becoming unemployment hotspots. For this reason, they will play a particularly important role in creating jobs as we emerge from the pandemic.
Our research with HSBC UK examined growth patterns within the UK’s seven-year jobs miracle to inform how new jobs can be created as the Government looks to build back better and level up the country. This research identified that if patterns of the past persist, cities and large towns will be our main job creators post-Covid.
There are several things that national and local government can do to support their areas’ economic and social recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic.
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Lockdown changed how we live, work and shop significantly, but not all these changes have endured, nor have they been evenly spread across the country.
After the financial crisis, London lost the status of being the UK’s engine of productivity growth. Now it may risk losing the status of the UK’s engine of overall growth.
Weak investment in intangibles may be one of the explanations behind London’s weak productivity growth.
London's productivity growth has stalled since 2007, explaining a large part of the UK's 'productivity puzzle' and leaving it trailing behind its global peers.
The first blog of this series shows that London’s moved from leader to laggard in terms of the UK’s productivity growth, costing billions to the national economy.
A discussion surrounding the UK's productivity struggles and what role London plays in national productivity slowdown.
Compared to other European countries, Britain has a backlog of millions of homes that are missing from the housing market. Building these homes is key to solving the nation's housing crisis.
While many cities perform poorly against the national average, they still play an important role in their regions despite this underperformance.
Very few parts of the country account for large shares of its economic output.
A common sentiment in struggling towns is that they’ve been overlooked by government in favour of places further south, but this isn’t the source of their problems.